When moms get together, conversation intertwines shared anecdotes about kids, the challenges of being the mom, how it is and how it was.
I found myself in the company of a few Napa Valley matriarchs, ranging in age from their early 70s to early 90s. The chat turned to Mother’s Day, which is May 8.
I’ve seen how the traditions of Mother’s Day have changed just since I was a girl. For these ladies, the changes are even more striking.
I asked the ladies what Mother’s Day was like for them when they were young moms in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, and how things might have changed.
They were all on the same page about so many of the traditions of this era. One long-lost tradition was a corsage for mom and grandma. I flashed back remembering we used to do this for our mom. I’d forgotten. Flowers are still a big part of Mother’s Day, but the simple corsages have become floral arrangements.
As I researched Mother’s Day facts, I discovered that in the early 1900s there were definitely flowers. People wore either red or white carnations in tribute to their mothers. This tradition was started by Anna Jarvis, who is credited with campaigning to make Mother’s Day a national holiday in the U.S. Carnations were her mother’s favorite flower. White carnations denoted the purity of a mother’s heart. White carnations were worn to honor deceased mothers, and red to honor mothers still living.
Next question: Had their husbands ever prepared breakfast in bed for them or dinner on Mother’s Day?
Once the mutual round of laughter ended, I moved on to another question: Where was the “in” place in Napa Valley for brunch back then? Another mutual response: “Grapevine Inn,” which was located where Brix now stands. The ladies could still quote the menu and favorite dishes.
Another special treat, a Champagne cake from Butter Cream Bakery, is still on the wish list.
Did husbands buy Mother’s Day cards for them? Another unanimous “no.” Their cards were handmade by the children, often accompanied by the handprint in clay or a clay ash tray. Can you imagine a clay ash tray being made in school today?
The topic of greeting cards for Mother’s Day was a true point of contention for Anna Jarvis.
Our modern Mother’s Day was first observed as a local holiday in 1910 in Jarvis’ home state of West Virginia. By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state in the U.S.
Jarvis wanted to honor her mother, who gave birth to 11 children, was a peace activist tending to wounded soldiers on both sides during the Civil War, and went on to create “work clubs” to address issues of public health.
Jarvis continued the work her mother began and wanted to achieve her mother’s dream of establishing a day set aside to recognize all mothers, believing that they “were the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
She began her mission in 1905, the year her mother died. First rejected by Congress in 1908, the efforts of Jarvis came to fruition in 1914 when Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating the second Sunday in May as a national holiday.
Jarvis eventually became saddened and embittered by the commercialization of the holiday. In the early 1920s greeting card companies began selling Mother’s Day cards. Jarvis felt that these companies had misused the idea of Mother’s Day for profit. This holiday was intended to be one of sentiment. She led boycotts of Mother’s Day, threatening lawsuits. Jarvis maintained that people should value and honor their mothers with personal letters expressing love and thanks, instead of purchasing gifts and commercial cards.
Just for fun I then reached out to moms of all ages I know across the country to find out if specific regions had specific traditions. Not really, I learned from what was shared with me.
On the subject of cards, we agreed that the best cards ever are those made by our children. Most of us have saved all of them.
What about now when cards are given from moms to daughters, daughters-in-law, the neighbor, a niece who is celebrating her first Mother’s Day? The original intent for the holiday has evolved. Or has it been lost?
Back in the day, it would not have occurred to us to ask our mothers to drive themselves to the celebration location or to change the day from the second Sunday of May to another day that might be more convenient to other members of the family. It was her day to be waited on, hand and foot. That being said, today’s moms of all ages are a more independent bunch.
Old traditions often give way to new traditions. There’s no right or wrong to this, it just is. There is, however, food for thought as you plan your Mother’s Day.
Asking all the ladies to describe their perfect Mother’s Day, the response was almost unanimous: having children and grandchildren gather at our homes on the actual day of Mother’s Day, and doing the cooking and cleanup. The family all together around the table. The menu to be chosen by the matriarch mothers.
Younger-generation moms I spoke with seemed far more comfortable asking for what they would like their day to be, where moms of a certain age would not feel comfortable doing this. One of the senior ladies shared a fun story that every Mother’s Day there is a traditional dinner menu of what her family believes are her favorite foods. She’s never told them that the meal was her husband’s favorites. She doesn’t want to hurt their feelings. This is what moms do sometimes.
What’s the menu for your mother? Maybe mom wants to go out for a burger after a morning of sky diving rather than a fancy brunch. If you you coax her a little, she might tell you what would make her day special.
If I had a wish, it would be for the breakfast in bed my girls made for me when they were little. Tater tots, toast and orange juice served on a tray with a flower from the yard and a homemade card. As I gleefully enjoyed each bite I tried my best to balance the tray on my waterbed.
The beginnings of Mother’s Day is the tale of a devoted daughter, Anna Jarvis, who wouldn’t rest until she had fulfilled her mother’s dream and paid her proper homage. Although the founder of Mother’s Day, she never had the blessing of being a mother herself. She is, nonetheless, acknowledged as the “Mother of Mother’s Day.” On Mother’s Day take a moment to remember Anna and a day many of us now share.
Remember to call mom or share a fond remembrance of her.